The Writer and Technology

My mom, Hindi Brooks, who was an amazing, prolific writer, was the first person I knew who had a personal computer. I’m talking early in the days of home computers. This thing was as big as an old TV (how appropriate that she was writing for television). It was such a dinosaur she had to insert the brain before she could start writing. (I’m serious.) She put the computer’s brain—an eight-inch floppy—into the A drive and locked it in, and then she put whatever she was working on—another eight-inch floppy—into the B drive. When everything was securely in place, she could go get a cup of coffee while the beast took forever to boot up.

Consider yourself lucky that you have such fast, efficient machines working for you. And they’re getting faster and more efficient every day. It probably won’t be long before you can simply have a thought and the machines take care of the rest. Oh, I have to email my agent. And poof! the email is sent—thanks to our trillion GHz natural language, wireless brain port.

Technology helps a busy writer take care of business more quickly and efficiently. Maybe it even helps you write more quickly and efficiently. But does it make you a better writer? According to my mom—who got to make the jump from typewriter to electric typewriter to computer to modern-day computer, and saw other writers do the same—the answer was this:  Computers make good writers better . . . and bad writers worse. Those who have a tendency to send their writing out before it’s cooked now can send it out completely raw. Those who tend to over-edit can now edit the poor text to death, changing things back and forth so many times the magic is simply edited out.

The moral here? If you want to create good writing, really good writing, you can’t skip over the stages of the process that writers have always had to do:

  • write
  • put aside
  • read fresh and rewrite (but don’t over-rewrite)
  • get feedback from a qualified individual (editor/coach/etc.) . . . and rewrite again (as many times as necessary . . . but don’t over-rewrite)
  • don’t forget to spellcheck

Also:

  • know your audience, know your market
  • do research as necessary to know your audience and market

In essence: Don’t be so dazzled by the shiny prize of being able to publish your work online in two seconds that you skip over the necessary stages of creating good work. If you take it slow, you may even get a surprise benefit:  you’ll enjoy the process.

Write Your Life

I am deeply inspired by the stories brought forth in my Write Your Life class and feel honored to serve as witness.

When you sit down to write (and to share your writing) in the company of others, you are giving yourself a profound gift. Your stories no longer live locked inside you, but are witnessed and held by a group, by a community.

Write Your Life is a wonderfully supportive environment in which to share your stories. It is my hope that you give yourself the gift of joining us.

All levels of experience welcome! typewriter

To read more or to register, click here.

Love That Deadline

It’s true.  I do.  I love deadlines.

Not that I always love the date attached to the deadline. But no deadline at all is not the writer’s heaven I used to think it was.

I learned early on to work with a contract, even when it wasn’t generated in-house. If I did some work for an individual author or writer, I’d draw up my own contract. I was slower to learn about the value of including a deadline in that document. I wrote a beautiful contract once, covered all bases, got contract advice from the wonderful National Writers Union (NWU: consider joining!), and presented my document to the author I would be writing for. He requested a few changes to the contract, which I made . . . but he said nothing about the absence of a deadline. Woo hoo! Was I a clever girl! I had squirreled out from under the dreaded deadline pressure—which I was sure would squash my creativity. I could now write in peace. I could craft a masterpiece. I was blessed.

. . . until a year into the project, when the book manuscript was not done and I’d run out of money. I now had work I owed someone and more work I needed to take on to pay the rent.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t been writing during that year. I’d been writing every day, loving life. But I hadn’t been focused on the manuscript’s finish line . . . because there wasn’t one. I would get there when the manuscript was complete. Completion was my finish line. But I’d forgotten to take into consideration how long my funds would last.

A painful lesson learned. Now I love deadlines.

Besides, if you have a deadline, you are one of the lucky ones—a writer or editor with a job or a project. It is cause for celebration. And if your deadline is not externally imposed, then you are one of the disciplined ones. Also cause for celebration.

How about you? Do you love that deadline? (We’d love to hear your experiences—the good, the bad, the ugly!)

Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat

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If you find yourself hitting the wall with a writing project, you can’t figure out what comes next in a scene or chapter, or you’re just too dang close to a project to know whether it’s any good or not, try this recipe for a non-writing retreat.

Ingredients

  • Fresh figs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Art supplies
  • Good climbing shoes
  • One large tree

Choose a serene spot with at least one large, accessible tree. I find the most effective is a location with very few, if any, other humans.

Place your brain to the side. (You will need this later when the retreat is over.) Put on your climbing shoes (I like Five-Finger shoes because they give you sticky-monkey-feet, but sneakers are good too. Bare feet work in a pinch).

If there is more than one tree in your chosen location, select the tree that calls to you the most. One way to discern which tree is calling is to approach each tree one by one and place your palms flat against the trunk. When you become aware of your heart, you know you’ve found your tree. Sometimes I feel a strengthened connection between my palms and my heart. All of this may be subtle, so take your time and listen with your whole body.

Once you’ve chosen your tree, proceed to climb it. You don’t have to be a daredevil climber to reap the benefits of tree climbing.  Even sitting on a low branch with your feet swinging a foot above the forest floor will provide you with the core benefit of your non-writing retreat.

For the most effective tree-sitting experience, find a limb or large branch that you can align with your sternum. Gently press your sternum against the branch or limb. One of my favorite ways to do this is to lie belly down along a large horizontal or near-horizontal limb. Alternately, you can align the limb or branch with the “back door to your heart” (this is the spot between your shoulder blades roughly opposite your sternum, or your heart). The gentle pressure vertically along your sternum or between your shoulder blades will allow the grounding energy of the tree to flow into your body, resetting your nervous system. (Note: The author has done no research to back up this statement. Neither is it FDA approved.)

Once you’re in a comfortable position, turn flame to low and simmer. Allow your gaze to settle on various aspects of the natural habitat you now find yourself in. Let your gaze soften and focus inward. Do you feel your energy shifting? What other senses are you aware of? What is the temperature of the air on your skin? Is there a breeze? Do you notice any sounds, textures, or smells? (If you smell tuna casserole, you haven’t gone far enough out into nature.)

As you sit or lie in the tree, you will likely feel your body relax (unless you’re afraid of heights). You may even become drowsy. In this subdued state you may notice creative ideas begin to bubble. Note: If you haven’t been out of the city for a while or you’ve been working particularly long hours, you may need to allow for a preliminary period of thought-slowing before your body begins to relax.

You’ll know you’re done with the tree-lounging portion of your retreat when you’ve got so many creative ideas bubbling up that you can’t sit still any longer or, alternately, when the ants that were streaming along the tree trunk are now streaming through your pants.

Climb down.

I like to thank the tree for the nurturing energy by placing my palms once again flat against the trunk. (If any of this sounds like nonsense to you, by all means skip the nonsensical parts! No reason to do empty rituals. But if you’re open to it, I invite you to suspend disbelief for a moment and at least try it out for yourself. If you’ve followed the recipe so far, there’s no one around to see you do it.) Another powerful touch point is the lips. Gently touch your lips to the bark of the tree and feel the energetic connection to your heart. (There’s a reason kissing is done with the lips!)

Now you can start on the art project you’ve brought along. If you haven’t brought along an art project, take a walk around your selected location and find some natural elements that speak to you—twigs, stones, grasses, whatever appeals to your senses. Now arrange them on the ground or in a tree or bush in a manner that’s pleasing to you.

And don’t forget about the fresh figs and dark chocolate (or whatever sensual foods you prefer). When you eat them, try closing your eyes and really pay attention to the smell and taste of the foods.

Note: Although the point of this retreat is to take a break from writing . . . it may very well trigger some writing ideas. So you might want to bring along a notebook and pen, just in case.

Oh, and don’t forget to gather up your brain before you drive home.Image

Write Fresh: Open Your Eyes as Though for the First Time

See a waterfall as though seeing it for the first time. Touch your dog’s fur and feel it as though you’ve never felt it before. Taste a hot meal as though you haven’t eaten in days. And then share that experience with your reader.

As a writer, if you can convey a common occurrence to your audience in a way that creates a brand new experience for your reader . . . then you have done your job well.

This beautiful short film exemplifies fresh seeing. Fresh feeling. Fresh being.

Click here to view the film: Gratitude HD – Moving Art™

A Writers’ Poll: How much do you write a day?

When I was growing up, sitting under my mom’s desk to play, comforted by the resounding tap, tap, tap of her manual typewriter, and then later shut out of her writing den so she could concentrate, I thought it was normal for a writer to write for hours and hours on end. My mom woke up and got to work by 5 or 6 in the morning and she didn’t leave her typewriter, and then later her computer, until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

That’s eight hours of writing!

When I began to write (after years of resisting being a writer, since I figured one was enough for one family), I found that my normal rhythm was about three or four hours a day. And when I tried to write more, I was utterly exhausted after five hours. What’s up with that? Although I didn’t fall far from the tree, I did seem to be a completely different kind of apple.

We were in many ways two very different writers. My mom wrote stage plays and television screenplays; I write fiction and memoir. My mom’s work was plot and dialogue driven. My work is very visual (though I do write good dialogue too; thanks, Mom). My mom wrote from the outside in—getting the concept and perhaps the structure in place first, and often not getting to the emotional content until later drafts. I tend to write from the inside out, spilling my guts onto the page and then muddling my way to finding some sort of plot.

Is our difference in style what made it harder for me to write longer than 3 or 4 hours? Or was it just that my mom was a bit of a powerhouse-superwoman-wordsmith? I mean, the woman only needed to 3 to 5 hours of sleep.

Well, when I recently began writing a book on a deadline, I found that suddenly I was writing five, six, seven hours a day! One day, I even wrote for eight. And I didn’t even feel exhausted . . . well, maybe a little. But I also felt exhilarated.

The mighty deadline has pushed me through the glass ceiling. Perhaps that was the difference all along. My mom wrote on deadline for years. Or . . . maybe my mom’s lovely spirit has been hanging around helping me out.

In any case, with that triumph in my back pocket, I still cherish the lovely writer’s day that goes like this: write in the morning; nap and then exercise in the afternoon; socialize in the evening. Perhaps one day I’ll get to write that way again.

In the end, there is no right number of hours for everyone. Virginia Woolf, I have heard, wrote for one hour a day. Stephen King supposedly writes ten pages each and every day (a lot of writing! Anyone know how long that takes him?). Many, many writers claim the 3–5 hour a day rule.

How much do you write a day? Do you shoot for hours or word count? Please tell us how you write n’ roll.

Check Out This Video Clip of My Workshop

I just got access to some footage of a workshop I did for the UCLArts and Healing Conference 2011. The workshop is Writing from the Senses: Quieting the Inner Critic, where I use movement and somatic awareness to help people access a deeper current from which to draw in their writing. It was an amazing workshop with incredible students. Click here to see the video. (It may take a while to load.)

Writing a Query Letter for Your Novel

 

Back in the day, a writer could drop the full manuscript of his or her novel over a publisher’s transom (thus the term “over-the-transom,” or unsolicited, submission). . . . The prospective editor would then read the manuscript, love it (or hate it), and a novel would be born (or die). Publishing was simple. Life was simple.

Life is not as simple these days, and neither is publishing. Editors at the publishing houses get so many submissions now, if they were still to accept over-the-transom manuscripts, they wouldn’t be able to push open the door to their building in the morning, let alone read all the manuscripts blocking their passage.

Today the proper route to take is to first find an agent (unless, of course, you’re planning to self-publish, but that’s for another blog post entirely). And don’t even think about sending a full manuscript off to an agent unsolicited.

But how does a manuscript get solicited?

The simple answer is: the query letter.

There are many styles of query letters and numerous how-to books telling you how to write one. But if you find yourself overwhelmed and unsure where to start, try getting your feet wet with some simple guidelines laid out by my colleague at the L.A. Editors and Writers Group: Kristen Weber on How to Write a Perfect Query Letter.

Good luck and keep the faith!

The Awe of the Writing Teacher

 

I just returned home from teaching a class (Writing from the Senses: Quieting the Inner Critic). A first night of a new series. And again I find myself in awe. A roomful of (mostly) new people—new to me, new to each other—and everyone dove in with such honesty and vulnerability . . . and so much wisdom.

Every time I teach I lay before my students an invitation. Come ride this wave with me! Dive in and see what you find! And each and every time I am honored, and astounded, to have my invitation accepted. Wow, they’re really gonna do this! They’re going to dive into the depths and return to the surface with such treasures.

I am so blessed to get to witness this process. And so grateful to those willing to engage in it.